Pep Guardiola’s three-point checklist to avoid more Man City derby day woe vs Manchester United – Alex Brotherton

Manchester City go into the 50th Manchester derby of the Premier League era looking to overcome a somewhat unlikely hoodoo.

Since Pep Guardiola took charge at City in the summer of 2016, the Blues have faced arch-rivals Manchester United six times at the Etihad Stadium (five in the league and once in the Carabao Cup). Of those six meetings, City have won only one and have lost the last three in a row.

It’s a staggeringly bad record considering how superior City have been to United in recent seasons and the fact that Guardiola’s side tend to fare pretty well when they make the trip to Old Trafford.

To avoid that embarrassing record continuing on Sunday and damaging City’s title hopes, here are a few things they need to do.

Don’t concede early

A theme that has developed in recent home derby defeats has been a tendency for City to concede early goals and never really recover.

The prime example of this is the 2-0 loss United inflicted in March 2021 that brought City’s 21-consecutive match winning streak to an end.

That day City were almost instantly knocked off their stride when Gabriel Jesus conceded a soft penalty in the second minute, which Bruno Fernandes duly converted.

As is so often the case when City concede an early goal, their opponents sat back and protected their lead, making it very difficult for City to break them down.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 07: Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United celebrates after scoring their side's first goal from the penalty spot during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on March 07, 2021 in Manchester, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Last season City fell behind to a Bruno Fernandes penalty after just two minutes

When this happens City have a habit of committing more bodies forward, play riskier passes and lose their defensive composure. That is exactly what happened when Luke Shaw scored United’s second just after half-time.

In United’s 2-1 win at the Etihad in December 2019, two quickfire goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial before half-time left City similarly shellshocked and unable to respond. A strong start for City on Sunday is paramount.

Guard against the counter-attack

The 2-1 defeat to Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer’s United in December 2019 – incidentally the last time City scored against United at the Etihad Stadium (thanks, Nicolas Otamendi) – saw United batter the hosts on the counter-attack.

Granted, Guardiola’s side were particularly vulnerable to counter-attacks during a largely disappointing 2019/20 campaign, but as we all saw in the recent 3-2 loss to Tottenham, City’s susceptibility to quick breaks has not been entirely remedied.

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After the 2019/20 campaign, Guardiola fixed the issue by abandoning a 4-2-3-1 set-up for the 4-3-3 system City currently use, as committing more bodies into attacking areas increases the passing options and reduces the chances of City losing the ball in potentially dangerous areas.

To avoid a repeat of the Harry Kane and Son Heung-min show, however, Guardiola might consider a change in personnel. In recent games against Spurs and Everton, Pep has used Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan as his number eights.

Both are fantastically gifted midfielders but neither possesses the defensive work rate and mobility that Bernardo Silva provides when he plays in the middle of the pitch.

The absence of Bernardo scampering around left Rodri and City’s defence vulnerable against Spurs. United like to counter-attack, so that can’t afford to happen again.

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No margin for defensive error

There has been a sense of self-inflicted pain in all of City’s recent home defeats to United.

From gifting United penalties in 2019 and 2021 to failing to mark players properly in the 3-2 defeat in 2018, City’s defenders have developed a bad habit of losing their heads when United come to East Manchester.

City put on a defensive disasterclass against Spurs a few weeks ago so hopefully, they have got these mistakes out of their systems.

Ralf Rangnick’s side might be having a tough season but with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo in their attack, City certainly don’t need to be giving them a helping hand.

What do you think City need to do to avoid another derby day defeat at home? Follow our City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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